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The Apostle's Creed (popular version)

I believe in God, the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, dead, and buried.
On the third day he rose from the dead,
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand
of God, the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge
the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of the saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And life everlasting.
Amen.


The Original Nicean Creed of 325 AD (popular version)

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light,
very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made
[both in heaven and on earth];
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again
ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge
the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.

[But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

The bracketed text above was added at the end of the original creed - obviously aimed at Arius.


The Revised Nicean Creed (381 AD, Constantiople)

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.

Water Baptism "for the forgiveness of sins" in the Book of Acts

March 31, 2016

Comments sent by a reader (edited for easier reading):
As for the immersion in water (baptism) performed in post-Pentecost days, there is no doubt that the purpose was "for the forgiveness of one's sins." It is pretty clear and straight forward. And the Nicean Creed echoes it very well: "[...We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins...]"
Baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ always succeeds to belief/repentance/confession of His name, and precedes salvation/forgiveness/washing away of sins:
[the reader then cites several NT texts]
Acts 2:38-41; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:13; Acts 8:35-39; Acts 9:17-20; Acts 22:16;
Romans 10:9-13; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 16:14-15; Acts 16:30-34; Acts 18:8a;
1 Corinthians 1:14; Acts 18:8b; Actes 19:1-7


Response:
While I basically agree with you on two points: immersion as the "norm" for water baptism AND that the earliest believers joined baptism with the "remission" or "cleansing" from sins, you are missing several important points.

If you read enough about me you will see that I work hard to approach the biblical text with objectivity, something I was NOT taught as a young Christian. I was told "correct doctrine" and told not to question it. Over my 40 years of aggressively serving and following Christ I have learned over and over that many views I held did not stand up to solid biblical and historical evidence. IF the NT is NOT clear on a point I will NOT be dogmatic about it. When it is clear I AM bound by text.

Easter Sunday and the physical resurrection of Jesus is a great example - we MUST hold to the bodily resurrection of Jesus or else as Paul says in 1 Cor 15 "our faith is in vain."

It is in this attitude that I want to present to you evidence from the biblical text that does not support your views. My hope is not to make you change your mind. As I said up front, I basically agree with you - but my goal is to urge you against being dogmatic and judging others who claim the same Jesus as you do, the same resurrection, the same basic tenets of faith, but happen to disagree on these points.


1. Immersion as THE only mode of baptism:
Only in Acts do we get a fairly clear picture of immersion. You can infer immersion from Romans 6, but the word baptizo does not strictly mean "to immerse." Just to make sure I looked it up in my Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon:
"to dip repeatedly." (1989, p.126)

Again, I do think the early church typically practiced the Jewish mode of immersion. We know the Essenes practiced such baptism which is very likely where John the Baptist (and likely Jesus) learned this method.

The Didache is an extremely important document on this point. Didache was written in the first century and mainly uses a very version of Matthew's gospel. Some date Didache as early 70AD. This document was used as "inspired" text by many early Christian writers through the middle of the third century - Origen cited it in his early years as "inspired" text.

In chapter 7 "On Baptism" Didache says this:
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

The verb "baptizo" is the main verb throughout this text. You can reject the evidence of Didache because it did not make it into our NT, but you need to realize that IT WAS considered inspired writing for many Christians prior to 250AD.

As an early church historian, I have some difficulty being dogmatic about doctrine being "correct" if it was not universally correct prior to the New Testament. They were either saved prior to the NT or they were allowed to live in ignorance.

2. Texts that speak to forgiveness of sins without baptism
There are indeed NT texts that speak of "remission" of sins through baptism, but there are some very important texts that do not.

Possibly THE most important NT letter for understanding doctrine is Paul's letter to the Romans. It is his only letter written to a church he had NEVER met and he is focused on making sure the Romans know HIS teachings. Remember, none of the gospels had been written yet. Paul's letters were the ONLY doctrinal writings to the Gentiles until around the early 60's.

Chapter six is his presentation on baptism and you will notice that he never says anything about forgiveness of sins being attached to the act.
If you look up ALL of Paul's uses of baptized - NONE of them says anything about it being done for "the forgiveness of sins." That concept is really only found in the gospels and in Acts which reflects the Essenic tradition used by Jesus and the earliest movement in Acts which was mostly Jewish. Paul never connects baptism with forgiveness.

There is more evidence AFTER the gospels and Acts for a connection between "the blood of Jesus" and forgiveness than to baptism and forgiveness:
Eph. 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 10:18.

Hebrews 10:22 does appear to connect baptism, but the context is to show that the OT sacrificial system has been replaced, thus we no longer have to shed the blood of an animal to find remission/forgiveness. This is the thrust of what Jesus says in Matt 26:28, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

It is difficult to hold that baptism is "for the forgiveness of sins" when so many other NT texts clearly attribute "forgiveness of sins" to the blood (sacrifice) of Jesus. You could argue for BOTH, but when NT texts clearly speak of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus one can see why this view of baptism is dogmatic.

Next, have a look at 1 John:
1:7 - the blood (not baptism) purifies from ALL sin.
1:9 - confession leads to being purified.
2:2 - implies the blood of Jesus
1 John never mentions baptism and in fact 1:7 says the blood purifies from ALL sin which would imply even the first cleansing which Acts tends to speak of for baptism, especially what we will see below with Acts 10.

Look up "baptize" and see how few times it is used AFTER the gospels and Acts. Only 1 time in Romans, 1 time in Galatians. Several in 1 Corinthians, but none connect it with "forgiveness." None in the John letters. One time in 1 Peter which reflects a more early Jewish mode of thinking.

The point is that Paul's presentation to the Gentiles does not give the same emphasis as the earlier Jewish views.

3. Using Acts for doctrine is flawed
Most of your examples came from the book of Acts. Acts is an historical document, not a didactic/teaching one. It is not a good idea to gain doctrine from an historical document. My movement does this with our doctrine of speaking in tongues. While I believe in this phenomenon, I do not think it is good biblical exegesis.

You believe in water baptism "for the remission/forgiveness of sins," but do you accept and believe in speaking in tongues? To be consistent, you would have to insist on both of these doctrines as normative in the Christian life.

In addition, you have the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. In this story Cornelius and his family receive the Holy Spirit AND THEN Peter says nobody can deny them baptism! If we use Acts for doctrine we are in a tight spot - according to a strict reading of this text these folks were saved and filled with the HS instantaneously prior to water baptism. This text certainly does not bear out baptism for "the forgiveness of sins," in fact verse 43 clearly states "...everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

I could go on with such examples using either the gospels or Acts for doctrinal evidence. Proper reading of the NT texts demands that we not be dogmatic if/when a particular topic is not clear. This is exactly why there has ALWAYS been controversy over water baptism - the texts do not ALL agree with one another. This leads different men to different conclusions, putting emphasis and focus on different aspects of the issue. But it is not good practice to use anything outside the epistles for doctrinal teaching. The letters were written for this purpose - the gospels, Acts and the Revelation were not.

The only exception would be gleaning doctrinal input about the nature of Jesus since the gospel writers were clearly attempting to teach about the nature of Jesus in their accounts, especially John's gospel.

4. The Nicean Creed
Lastly, you cited from the Nicean Creed. You are correct that the revised Nicean Creed of 381 AD contains this statement regarding baptism, but the original creed of 325 AD did not - [original creed: http://www.churchhistory101.com/century4-p8.php].

Although we do not have record of the Apostles Creed prior to 325 AD, most scholars believe that this more simple creed was already being used prior to Nicea, probably in an even more simple format. It says nothing about baptism.

Most of the early creeds were actually used in the baptism ceremony, thus there was no real need to mention baptism. Having said this, IF the primitive church tied forgiveness of sins as closely to baptism as you are suggesting, one would think it would be clearly stated in the earliest creeds.
In fact, one of the earliest creeds we have is in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians when he clearly states:
"...that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
    that he was buried,
    that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures"

In the Greek construction this is clearly an early creed and there is no mention of baptism, yet there is an allusion to "forgiveness" of sins when he states that Christ "died for our sins." This more closely represents that the blood of Jesus (shed in his death) is what works for forgiveness rather than baptism. This more closely represents the evidence from Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 10:18 and the texts mentioned above in 1 John.

I do not want to be dogmatic towards anyone who holds the belief that baptism IS done for the "forgiveness of sins," but the NT evidence is just NOT clear enough for this to be dogma in my opinion. Many of those who hold this view indicate doubt that others outside their stance can truly be saved. For me this is the problem...but there is little I can do to change their opinion.

 

One thing that interests me from all these comments is, so many people are not content with what Jesus plainly said but will go to any length to figure out a way to get around it. Jesus said, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved". His apostles who were with Him did not seem to have any problem understanding that. When people ask Peter (and the other apostles) what they MUST do.

He had no difficulty telling them what to do. How is it that people who were not with Jesus and did not receive the out pouring of the Spirit like they did, know so much more about what a sinner needs to do to be saved. Yes, I know, you say, "What about those who don't do that for one reason or another"? Neither you nor I are the judge. It is as wrong for us to judge either way. All judging must be left to God. Our job is to tell People what Jesus said, just like Peter did as well as all the others in the book of Acts did.

Just because people come along later and understand things differently does not change what was said in the beginning. We can try all we want to explain (and spin) things to fit with popular opinions but in the end, it still says what it says and if God said it, it is still true.

Response:
Thank you for your comments.
It appears that you have already made up your mind (as have I), but I want to ask a few questions for you to ponder. I realize that this line of thinking fits very nicely into your statement "We can try all we want to explain (and spin) things to fit with popular opinions..." but I am going to respond anyway.

Yes, Jesus makes a plain statement, and yes there are other plain statements in Acts and other books...but you also need to consider:
1. Jesus makes other plain statements that we do not take literally.
"If you hand offends you, cut it off..." Matt 5:30 to name just one, but there are others.

2. Jesus makes some statements that are contradicted by later New Testament writers.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.   Matt 5:17
Yet...
When God speaks of "A new covenant," He makes the first one obsolete. And whatever is becoming obsolete (out of use, annulled)
and growing old is ready to disappear.   Heb 8:13
Amp Bible
And...
He does away with the first [covenant as a means of atoning for sin based on animal sacrifices] so that He may inaugurate and establish the second [covenant by means of obedience]. Heb 10:9 Amp Bible

And Paul's entire letter to the Galatians is making it clear that Gentiles do NOT need to live under the Law of Moses. This is the whole debate at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. There is no easy verse from Galatians, but the entire letter is giving the message later spoken clearly in the letter to the Hebrews (cited above).

3. Jesus and the primitive church in Acts represents the early Jewish Christian movement.
Paul never gives a clear statement like the one you are defending - in fact, Paul is known for his basic message that salvation comes from faith, not ANY works. The NT letter of James actually seems to argue against this view clearly presented in Galatians. Some scholars think James was written first, but some have it as a polemic against Paul's Galatians.

Jesus and the early Jewish Christian movement was highly influenced by the Essenes who practiced a form of water baptism on a daily basis. Baptism was a critical part of the early Jewish movement.

It does not matter how you read this - the point is that Paul never makes ANY salvivic statement of baptism. His letter to the Romans is THE most crucial letter for doctrine. He says many things about baptism in chapter 6, but certainly does not clearly make it essential for salvation. Galatians and Romans (especially chapters 4-5) are known for holding out the concept of salvation by grace through faith.

This may all seem like "go[ing] to any length to figure out a way to get around" the words of Jesus, BUT understanding the nuances of the New Testament are not easy. The NT is just not crystal clear on many things - this is why we have disagreements between well-meaning Christians...and so many denominations. Preachers in the Church of Christ and those in other Christian denominations know the texts, have studied the texts and are earnest in their faith. Yet they do not agree on this point.

And there are many such points: eternal security, speaking in tongues, healing, miracles, modes of baptism, church governance, eschatology, how to conduct the Lord's Supper (or Eucharist)....and on and on.

Where the NT is clear, we must hold tightly, but where there are tensions we should show grace and humility to one another.

Happy to hear back from you on this.

RA Baker


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